Courtesy Moyan Brenn/Flickr
This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 11 October 2016.
Around the world, political and criminal actors appear to be working more closely together than ever before. In 2011, the White House warned that criminal networks were forging alliances with political actors to undermine the interests of the United States. Spanish prosecutors have alleged that in many former Soviet states organized crime groups work “as a complement to state structures,” doing “whatever the government…cannot.” Concerns about political and public sector corruption in eastern Europe have grown. A recent report suggests that organized crime groups are taking control of local democracy in countries as varied as Afghanistan, Colombia, and Niger. In the Middle East, organizations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Islamic State combine local social service provision, militant activity, and transnational organized crime to develop governmental power. And in North Korea, the ruling regime is accused of counterfeiting, drug-running, and even human trafficking. “Mafia states,” as this convergence of political and criminal power has been described, appear to be on the rise worldwide.
Political and criminal actors have long collaborated—not least in the US. As I show in my new book, Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organized Crime, the US government worked closely with the American mafia during World War II and the Cold War to extend its power overseas. In the process, the Mob became an active player in international affairs, mounting armed insurgences, engaging in transnational terrorism, and even engineering regime change in some countries. But the move towards criminalized politics appears to have accelerated in the last two decades. Why?
A man waves an Egyptian flag in front of riot police
This article was originally published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on 25 January 2016.
Five years ago, the leaders of Egypt’s protest movement shocked themselves by successfully bringing down President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power since before many of them were born. In those days, it was not unusual to hear talk of a new dawn for Egyptian politics and the Arab world. It is difficult to find many leaders of that movement who are so cheerful today. And their disappointment is broadly shared in academic, policy, and media circles around the world. Young and disaffected Egyptians, the story goes, revolted against a stultified regime and demanded a democratic government, a freer society, and more economic rights. They won the battle but lost the war, as the military, initially along with the Muslim Brotherhood and later without it, gained the upper hand and defeated the revolutionaries.
But there is a very different way to tell the story of 2011. This tale is not one of high but disappointed hope, but one of threatened chaos and rescue. From the perspective of Egypt’s security institutions—its military, police, and intelligence forces—the uprising threatened to bring down not only Egypt’s president but its entire social and political order. Averting such an outcome was an arduous task, one that the Egyptian armed forces still see themselves as undertaking.
This article was originally published by the Journal of Public Policy on 29 November, 2015.
In October 2005, two North African teenagers died of electrocution in one of the banlieues of Paris as they were running from the police through a dangerous power substation. An inquiry later established the teens were innocent, and the incident sparked some of the worst unrest seen in France over the past 40 years. The riots brought about much debate over the tense relationship between immigrant youth and the state, the recurring problems of “fracture sociale,” and a perceived lack of social justice. Above all, the protests were an expression of acute feelings of alienation experienced by a large section of society. The banlieues have been a breeding ground for deep frustration, maintaining a distinctly poor and marginalized status for decades. Unemployment is common and 36% of the banlieu residents are estimated to live below the poverty line—three times the national average. » More
Plastic model of Iraqi regions, courtesy of Jan Sefti/flickr
This article was originally published by The Conversation on 10 September, 2015.
While global attention focuses on Islamic State (IS), recent mass protests throughout Iraq have prompted Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to promise what many long believed impossible: tackling the systemic corruption endemic to the Iraqi political system.
Moving decisively to cut the fat, al-Abadi slashed the Iraqi cabinet by one-third. He abolished the positions of 11 ministers, three deputy presidencies, three deputy prime ministers and a total of four ministries altogether – although this, worryingly, includes the portfolios for human rights and women’s affairs. » More
Corruption complaint box in Leh, India. Image: watchsmart/Flickr
This article was originally published by Open Democracy on 4 September, 2015.
This summer in Pakistan, a massive corruption scandal erupted involving collusion between between political parties and public officials over illegal land-grabbing in the city of Karachi, capital of the country’s most populous province, Sindh. A report published in June 2015 by the Pakistani Rangers, a legal paramilitary force under the direct control of the interior ministry, provided hard evidence of the so-called “evil nexus”.
The role of political parties is important, for in Pakistan they are perceived – along with the national police force and civil servants – as among the most unreliable and corrupt institutions. Data from Transparency International confirms this distrust, which this most recent scandal did nothing to rebuild. Instead it stands as yet another example of how dirty money, when it seeps into politics, can seriously damage democratic institutions. » More